Few of New York City's urban parks can match the incredible biodiversity and range of family-friendly activities found at the Bronx's New York Botanical Garden. In addition to providing a blissful escape from the urban jungle, the 250-acre NYBG offers a packed cultural calendar, including world-class art and horticulture exhibitions, as well as alfresco dinners prepared by acclaimed NYC chefs.
Founded in the late 19th century as New York's answer to the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, the NYBG gives a unique glimpse into the City's past and present through the lenses of its flora, fauna and edible crops. A visit to the garden couldn't be easier to plan, and there are great on-site dining options, making it easy to spend the entire day in its environs. The best choice for admission the All-Garden Pass, which includes all attractions and a Tram Tour that provides an overview of the Garden, including its history and various collections. For more highlights and practicalities, read on.
How to Get There
Thanks to the Metro-North rail line, you can get to the Garden in less than half an hour from Grand Central Terminal. (The New York Botanical Garden Metro-North station is across the street from the Garden's Mosholu Gate entrance; the Conservatory Gate entrance is farther southeast along Southern Boulevard.) Tickets for Metro-North can be purchased in person at Grand Central Terminal or bought in advance online. If you come up this way, your best bet is to buy a “Getaways” pass, which includes a round-trip train from Grand Central to the Garden as well as the entrance fee at a discounted price (less than $35 combined). Another option is to hop on the B, D or 4 subway train to the Bedford Park Blvd. station and then catch the Bx26 bus to the Mosholu Gate entrance.
World-Class Art and Botany Exhibitions
The NYBG hosts a rotating roster of expertly curated exhibitions, which may feature works by celebrated artists such as Frida Kahlo (who is spotlighted now through November 1) or Claude Monet, who was inspired by nature throughout his life. Other displays, like the Garden's annual Orchid Show, are more focused on botany. Whatever the exhibition theme, the Garden offers related programming on a regular basis, including live music on select evenings.
With opportunities for relaxing activities like walking the woods, as well as more hands-on educational experiences, the Garden is an ideal place for a family to spend time together. The NYBG offers specific programs for kids and teens: young ones, for instance, can get their hands dirty while learning about organic food through the Children's Gardening Program, and enjoy kid-friendly cooking demonstrations by top chefs in the outdoor Whole Foods Market Family Garden Kitchen. Geared to children ages 3–12, the playfully landscaped Everett Children's Adventure Garden presents year-round programming such as Tropical Discoveries, in which kids learn the differences between tropical and temperate flora by potting a plant to take home, making bark rubbings and counting tree rings.
In addition to the wheelchair-accessible Tram Tour, the NYBG provides a variety of guided excursions that focus on specific sections of the garden, led by experts and curators. Offerings change frequently, but might include the Wild Medicine tour, which educates visitors about tropical plants that have healing properties, or Photography Tips & Tricks in the Tropics, for instruction on how best to light and compose images. You could also opt for an expert-led customized tour ($40 per person; if you have a group of 15 people or more, contact the Group Tours office at 718-817-8687 for possible itineraries).
Trails and Gardens
Get some fresh air by walking along one of the NYBG's many trails, such as the one through the Thain Family Forest, which encompasses 50 acres of old-growth woodlands. For a shorter walk, amble along the Wetland Trail—captivating in summer, when bright purple ironweed flowers bloom. Other notable areas include the Azalea Garden, a must-see around Mother's Day every year, when its eponymous flowers carpet the landscape in pink and purple hues, and the internationally renowned Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, where more than 650 varieties of roses are in peak bloom from May to October.
From late February to mid-April, don't miss the Orchid Show, for which the Garden displays a thematically curated orchid exhibition that changes each year. Look out for related events, like evening cocktail parties, poetry readings and hands-on orchid-care demonstrations.
Gardening Activities and Outdoor Dinner Events
The Garden presents an educational program called Edible Academy, managed in part by Annie Novak, the cofounder and farmer of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn. The Academy offers hands-on gardening activities every afternoon between April and October; activities might involve harvesting herbs, planting carrots or weeding. As well, Novak and the Family Garden staff conduct cooking demonstrations every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2pm and 4pm at the Whole Foods Market Family Garden Kitchen.
The Edible Academy garden is planted in conjunction with an ongoing dinner series featuring chefs from the acclaimed Italian restaurants of the Batali & Bastianich Group—Babbo, Del Posto and Otto among them. In the winter Novak reviews the restaurant menus and uses them as inspiration to decide what to plant. Once warmer weather arrives, the chefs come to the NYBG to prepare meals, using the freshly harvested produce. These three-course dinners, which also incorporate produce from nearby Hudson Valley farms, are served alfresco and open to the public. Wines are selected to pair with the food (as are nonalcoholic cocktails); tickets are $85 for adults, $35 for children.
The Garden has two excellent restaurants, the Pine Tree Café and Hudson Garden Grill, both open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 6pm. The former is a more casual affair, offering fresh panini, soups and salads, while the latter serves seasonal cuisine like local cheeses, fresh seafood and roasted meats in more elegant surroundings. There may even be food trucks offering dishes inspired by the Garden's current art exhibition. But you can also opt to bring your own food and enjoy it in the Picnic Pavilion, located just behind the Everett Children's Adventure Garden. Those looking to get out of the sun, take note: the pavilion is covered.